The end of training camp should mean the start of genuine action. But we’re still sighing and checking the calendar again. That gap between leaving the dorms and the spectacular opening kickoff which doesn’t look so large earlier in the year is actually upon us, and it feels much longer than remembered. I’m looking forward to complaining that the week between games is excruciating.
At least they’ve moved from Pittsford to Orchard Park. Those sick of Bills making plays at the expense of other Bills can enjoy one last chance for the tryouts against the Lions. We’re past our favorite team’s offense excelling while the defense sputters, or vice versa. The end of the zero-sum intramural contests means we are almost to the point where the league ends up even. The only safe prediction is that NFL teams will end up at .500 this season, but the Bills don’t have to be victimized as has often happened in our painful memories.
Fans don’t have to pretend to be surprised at who’s behind center on the first drive. Since confirmation of what everyone knows happened sooner than five minutes before the first real kickoff as promised, we can dreamily recall each Tyrod Taylor pass attempt against the Steelers to kill time in the pre-Labor Day lull. This is why they should start the regular schedule around Saint Patrick’s Day, although the proposal may be vetoed by the Players Association. A quarterback dilemma resolved in the best way shows why practice games are valuable for more than filling the offseason void.
A four-game slate is a long time to hold our breath. The real score to keep is how few preseason injuries each team accumulates. This is a league-wide concern: nobody wants to see, say, Jordy Nelson out for a season, even fans of those teams tasked with the daunting prospect of trying to stop him while he’s healthy. The Packers star having one working knee fewer than necessary is the most devastating lost season in a month that seemed filled with them.
But pain accompanies growth. Even with proper management of playing time, players can’t get better without risk. Injuries before the season will be part of the game until Roger Goodell gets his way and makes two-hand touch. And competitors could still turn ankles. The absence of bad news is tough to appreciate but important to recognize. Fans will miss Ty Powell and Jarius Wynn without even getting to see them. The chance of having to rebuild a joint is the price of not working in an office. No network bids on the right to broadcast professions plagued by carpal tunnel syndrome.
The NFL really needs to end the mandatory participation rule for camps and the preseason. Or, if that’s made up, coaches just have to use their guys judiciously. Teams are free to let players loaf on the sideline. Any physical activity requires exertion to improve, which means potential to get hurt. Dodge contact only to fear a torn pectoral in the weight room. Players could get hit by a car crossing the street going to Tim Hortons after being excused from practice. It’s impractical to cover them in bubble wrap.
The option to expose players to game conditions is available for teams unsure of who’s playing. It’s better to have four preseason games where teams field guys who will be wearing ties to work in September than not have enough to try new schemes and guys. Nervousness is a natural companion. Every fantastic completion against Pittsburgh seemed to be countered by an anxious moment where a player writhed in pain after the whistle. Avoiding injury is itself an accomplishment. It’s a relief any time our beloved players get through with only soreness or dings.
The announcement of what was supposedly going to be a confidential quarterback decision proves nobody can keep a secret. Suspense over the verdict will no longer be killing us. The Bills have most of their staff decisions straightened out, including the invaluable guy who throws the ball. Seeing Taylor earn it makes even fans of the other options content with his selection.
Overall, Rex Ryan decided that the best way to evaluate potential hires is to let them ease into the season instead of subjecting them to boot camp. What’s important is that players like the approach out of respect and efficiency, not because it’s easy. Praising a coach could seem like taking advantage of a substitute teacher. But there’s a difference between letting pupils walk all over you and treating them like adults. Most importantly, the quarterback race matured.